By any measure Amer al-Saadi ought to feel vindicated. The dapper British-educated scientist who was the Iraqi government's main link to the United Nations inspectors before the US invasion repeatedly insisted that Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction years earlier.
David Kay, the American inspector who headed the Iraq Survey Group and was sure he would find such weapons when he went to Iraq after the war, now accepts Dr Saadi was right. So does Hans Blix, the chief UN inspector, who up to a month before the war still thought Iraq might have had WMD.
Yet, astonishingly, Dr Saadi does not know of their change of mind or of the political fallout their views have caused in western countries. He is like a lottery winner who is the last person to be told he has hit the jackpot.
Held in solitary confinement in an American prison at Baghdad's international airport, Dr Saadi is denied the right to read newspapers, listen to the radio, or watch television.
"In the monthly one-page letters I am allowed to send him through the Red Cross I cannot mention any of this news. I can only talk about family issues," says his wife, Helma, as she sits in the couple's home less than half a mile from US headquarters in Baghdad.
Barely three days after the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by US troops in central Baghdad Dr Saadi approached the Americans and became the first senior Iraqi to hand himself in. It was the last time his wife saw him.
He was sure he would soon be released, Mrs Saadi says. He was a scientist who had never been part of Saddam's terror apparatus, or even a member of the Ba'ath party.
CIA interrogators have repeatedly interviewed him. Had there been any WMD to discover Dr Saadi would have had an obvious incentive to reveal their location once the regime had collapsed. But from the reports of the Iraq Survey Group it can only be assumed that he has maintained his line that they were eliminated long ago.
Dr Saadi is described officially by the Americans as an "enemy prisoner of war". This allows them to detain him indefinitely without access to a lawyer or visiting rights from his family until George Bush declares the war to be over. Whether he is still held out of spite or to hide Washington's embarrassment is not clear. He has already been in custody for more than a year.
His CIA interrogators have finished their work and apparently feel awkward about his continued detention.
"My handlers have appealed to higher authorities for my release but it seems it's political and God doesn't meddle in politics," Dr Saadi wrote in one letter.
"It would speak well for them if they admitted they were mistaken. They would look human," Mrs Saadi says. German by birth, she and her husband have always conversed in English. They were married in Wandsworth register office in south London 40 years ago last October, when he was studying chemistry at Battersea College of Technology.
The prison letters she shares with the Guardian reflect the tenderness of a long and successful partnership. Despite the censorship they resonate with affection and occasional whimsical flashes of humor, as well as periods of depression.
"Leave the brooding to me. I have time enough. Be constructive," he urged her in one letter.
By a second cruel stroke of fate, she was in the UN headquarters last August, seeking help for her husband, when a suicide bomber blew it up. Twenty-two people died, including the woman she was talking to when the upper floor caved in. Mrs Saadi was unconscious for 48 hours and awoke in a US military hospital.
The couple's children have lived most of their lives in Germany. "We didn't want them to develop under the regime. He never saw his children grow up. It breaks my heart," Mrs Saadi says. She spent 20 years bringing them up in Hamburg and making only short visits to Baghdad. Dr Saadi was not allowed to go abroad except on official business. The regime urged him to divorce her but he refused.
In prison under US custody he is not even allowed pen and paper, except to compose his one-page Red Cross letter. He does crosswords by filling in the blanks in his head. His wife sent him a computerized chess set but was not allowed to provide replacement batteries when the first ones ran out. He has been teaching himself German. "If it were not for impressing the grandchildren, I wouldn't bother," he wrote last year.
Last month he joked about Paul Bremer, the top US official in Iraq. "Bremer I found out from the German lessons I am giving myself is a man from Bremen! Yet another German!"
Dr Saadi is kept in his cell all day except for an hour of exercise in a supervised area. His wife was able to send him running shoes.
In October he wrote that his conditions had slightly improved: "The awfully sagging bed has now a wooden board, and a plastic chair is provided instead of the back-breaking sitting on the floor on the very low bed which rolls you towards the center with your bottom nearly touching the floor."
With a British PhD in physical chemistry Dr Saadi is essentially a rocket scientist. Now 66, he was awarded a scholarship from the defense ministry under the Iraqi monarchy to study in Britain, which meant he had to commit himself to work for the military later.
During the war with Iran, when Saddam's Iraq was being armed and helped by the west, he organized a team of scientists who developed a ground-to-ground missile with a range of 400 miles, capable of reaching Tehran. This prompted the Iranian regime to agree to a peace deal.
In 1994 he retired with the rank of lieutenant general but was appointed the next year as a scientific adviser to the presidency. He regularly met the UN weapons inspectors and when they resumed their work in November 2002 he was the government's main liaison man.
He became a well-known figure on TV, wearing a suit rather than uniform and speaking fluent English at press conferences. His wife insists he was never close to Saddam and last met him in 1995.
In his presentation to the security council in February last year the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, attacked Dr Saadi. He described his job as being "not to cooperate, it is to deceive; not to disarm, but to undermine the inspectors; not to support them, but to frustrate them and to make sure they learn nothing".
Dr Saadi rejected the charges and hit back, describing Mr Powell's speech as a "typical American show, full of stunts and special effects".
Mr Powell admitted recently that key parts of his presentation were wrong.
Dr Saadi's younger brother, Radwan, has worked in Iraq's oil ministry for 30 years and was reinstated by the US as head of its finance department. He tries to be hopeful. "The Americans are taking it case by case. There are various agencies who all have to approve anyone's release. Some detainees were released very early who were closer to the regime than Amer. It's like dealing with a black hole."
Dr Saadi is number 32 on Washington's most wanted list, and the seven of diamonds on the notorious deck of cards. Ironically, he now spends a lot of time with cards, playing patience in his lonely cell.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004